Big Star at Home

Long weekends are such a tease. Just long enough to relax just a little bit, but they’re over right when you really start getting used to it. Long or not really though, I’ll take what I can get, and will only complain a little along the way.

As it turns out, these “long weekends” are just long enough to get a few things accomplished. They’re long enough to get your hands on a really cheap starter bike that you broke in immediately by riding it 8 miles home (meanwhile, breaking in the tailbone as well). They’re just long enough to eat a good (ultra-cheap) dinner with friends, and to make it to Ribfest to sweat a bit in the sweltering hot sun and watch the Hubs regretfully inhale a deep-fried Milky Way.

This particular long weekend was just long enough to squeeze in a trip to Grant Park for fireworks, which included seeing lots of unpleasant “mom cleavage”, a kid getting swacked upside the head, lackluster fireworks, and Chicago’s finest texting and facebooking instead of fighting crime. The time with friends was unbeatable, though, and entirely worth all the other oddities.

Hubs’ weekend was more than complete, even though he had to work some (on a Holiday weekend! a Holiday weekend!), because he got to see his favorite band of all time for the millionth time, which for him is entirely priceless. It’s priceless for me too, but not because of the music, but instead because I see him with a permanent smile, carefree and as happy as a kid building a sandcastle. Maybe happier.

The only thing we didn’t get to squeeze into the past long weekend was a trip to Big Star, our neighborhood’s popular new-ish bar that requires you to either be on a permanent vacation, and/or have the determination to make it there by noon on the weekends with plans to camp out all day, as the patio fills up within moments if you aren’t there on the weekday by three. For those of us who work, that’s a little hairy.

Fortunately, a recent read of Food & Wine led me to an easy-on-the-eye picture of tacos al pastor from none other than the Bucktown spot itself, as part of a feature of the country’s top taco joints. It seems these delicacies weren’t as difficult to come by as I might had previously imagined, after all.

And after making them, Hubs and I agreed that, aside from the waiting time of grilling and resting the pork shoulder and taco assembly, the wait for these at home is much more bearable. Just like their own in-house tacos, these are perfectly juicy and heavily flavored with the dried chile marinade that the pork soaked in overnight. Finished off with a grilled pineapple salsa, I could have easily been sitting at a picnic table outdoors rather than in my own house.

The only difference? I was missing a Bakersfield Buck. But next time these get made, I plan to procure some ginger beer and bourbon as well, and then I’ll truly have my very own Big Star at Home. Without the agony of waiting.

Tacos al Pastor
Adapted from Big Star via Food & Wine, May 2010; serves 6

printable version

timing: 45 minutes of work, but allow a day for overnight marinating

4 dried guajillo chiles (about 1 ounce)
1 dried ancho chile
2 dried chipotle chiles
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Coca-Cola
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon annatto seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 whole clove
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 corn tortillas, warmed
cotija cheese
Grilled pineapple, chopped red onion and cilantro, for serving
1/2 lime’s worth of juice

Stem and seed all of the dried chiles and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave at high power until softened, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drain and transfer to a blender. Add the orange juice, lime juice, soda and vinegar. In a spice grinder, grind the annatto with the oregano, cumin, clove, sugar and garlic powder until fine. Add the spice mixture to the blender and blend until smooth.

Transfer the marinade to a saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until very thick, about 5 minutes; let cool. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork and onion and seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.

Light a grill. Remove the pork and onion from the marinade and scrape most of it off. Brush the pork and onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning, until the meat is cooked through, 15 minutes. Transfer the pork and onion to a work surface, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the pineapple, red onion, and cilantro with lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

Cut the pork into strips. Serve the pork and onion with the warmed tortillas and salsa. Top with cotija cheese.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

[Before we talk wieners, let me first say thank you to those of you who read and commented on the previous post. It means a whole heck of a lot.]

I used to collect baseball cards. In fact, I had so many baseball cards that I needed a special “baseball card binder” to keep them in. In middle school, one of my favorite excursions was a trip to Atlanta, Georgia to watch the Braves play; John Smotlz was super-hot, and I dreamed nightly of autographed baseballs and season tickets. Sadly, I settled on going to one game, and before too long the shine had worn off, so to speak.

Apparently, when living in Chicago, being a mediocre baseball fan is unacceptable, or at least frowned upon.

But even though I’ve been in Chicago for 6 years, only 1 member of the Wetzel household has taken a true liking to baseball. And now, at the end of April, baseball season is well underway. That means exactly two things in this house: Hubs gets excited over the Cubs and their dubbing this season as “Year 1“, and I get excited about having an excuse to eat a Chicago Dog and a hat full of nachos. The way I see it, at least I’m excited about something, right?!

We introduced my friend, Katie, and my new friend, Jody, to the Chicago Dog on the Cubs’ opening day game in Chicago a couple of weeks ago (which, I might add, was a good game!). Given Katie’s pure hatred of all things mustard, she certainly didn’t experience a “true” Chicago dog, but I was also scolded as a result of my putting ketchup on my dog, a huge “no-no”, but since the stand was tomato-less, I thought it’d be a good sub for tomato flavor. Wrong answer; the right answer, you ask? Waiting for them to refill the tomatoes.

As it turns out, there is only one correct way, for the most part, to eat a Chicago dog. And last Friday (Hot Dog Night), we did it up, and we did it up right.

In addition to the perfect Chicago dog, I also found a recipe for Mexican hot dogs thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Homesick Texan. Which one is best, you ask? Oh, I don’t know. Once I finally began liking mustard (similar to the tomato issue – baby steps!), the Chicago dog really found its way into my heart, and since I now consider myself a Chicagoan (and yes, also a Southerner; it is possible to be both, I’ve decided), I do feel some loyalty to this delicacy. However, the Mexican dog was outta this world too. Despite the strangeness of putting mayo on a ‘dog, the fact that it was also wrapped in bacon was enough for me to throw caution to the wind, and I’m glad I did.

You could certainly make one or the other, if in fact you’ve become somewhat enamoured with the ‘dog, as I was last week. But I’m curious to know which one’s your favorite, if you do indeed make both, or even if you don’t and have an opinion already.

Bacon, chipotle mayo, jalapeno peppers, and if you’re gutsy – some pineapple salsa? Or tomatoes, onions, celery salt, and mustard, and if you’re gutsy – a handful of sport peppers? Unlike last week’s Cubs games, it may just be too close to call…

The Chicago Dog
Adapted from; makes 8

If you want the most authentic Chicago Dog possible, you’d steam the buns and ‘dogs. I like to grill the ‘dogs to get a good char, and I know that’s not “how it’s done here in Chicago”. but this is my adaptation.

printable version

8 all beef hot dogs
8 poppyseed hot dog buns
yellow mustard
sweet (neon) green pickle relish
onion, small dice, from about 1 small onion
tomato wedges, from about 2 Roma tomatoes
8 dill pickle spears
sport peppers
celery salt (1 part celery seed, 1 part kosher salt)

grill hot dogs to obtain good outer char.

place hot dog in bun. per, pile on the toppings in this order: yellow mustard, sweet green pickle relish, onion, tomato wedges, pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt. The tomatoes should be nestled between the hot dog and the top of the bun. Place the pickle between the hot dog and the bottom of the bun. Don’t even think about ketchup!!

Mexican Hot Dogs with Chipotle Mayo and Pineapple Salsa
Adapted, barely, from Homesick Texan; makes 8

printable version

8 all beef hot dogs
8 hot dog buns
8 slices of bacon
1 cup of refried beans, warmed
chipotle mayonnaise (recipe below)
pineapple salsa (recipe below)
pickled jalapeno slices
avocado, cut into wedges

wrap a piece of bacon around each hot dog. grill bacon-wrapped dog until bacon is crisp.

spoon beans and avocado into each bun. place bacon-wrapped hot dog in bun and then top with condiments.

Eggless  Chipotle Mayonnaise (David Leite’s recipe)

1/3 c whole milk
1 t of lime juice
1 clove of garlic, chopped
2 whole chipotle chiles from a can of chipotles en adobo
3/4 c of canola oil
Pinch of salt

in a blender, mix together the milk, lime juice, garlic and chipotle chile for 30 seconds or until well blended. with the blender on high, slowly drizzle in the oil a tablespoon at a time. The mixture should begin to thicken. Continue adding oil until it’s thick. Salt to taste. Will keep for five days in the refrigerator.

Pineapple Salsa

ingredients (use to taste)
pineapple, peeled and cored and small-diced
1 jalapeño chile, small-diced
red onion, small-diced
chopped cilantro
lime juice
salt and black pepper to taste

mix all ingredients together.